BPAs and MPAs – Is There a Difference?

Gorgonian Coral. Credit Peter Marriott NIWA

New Zealand’s Benthic Protection Areas (BPAs) are internationally-recognised as a type of Marine Protected Area (MPA).  The IUCN recognises seven categories of MPAs and BPAs meet Category VI.

Pew and WWF-NZ have asked the Government to ignore the existence of BPAs as they insist MPAs must exclude human activity all together.  This extreme view is not widely supported.

Internationally, it is recognised that low impact activities can take place within an MPA so long as the activity is compatible with the MPA’s biodiversity conservation objectives.

Deepwater Group (DWG) is of the view that it is in New Zealand’s best interests to continue to recognise BPAs as MPAs.  New Zealand’s BPAs protect 30% of New Zealand’s seafloor.  This is a significant area set aside to conserve benthic biodiversity, an area four times the size of New Zealand’s land area.  Annually, only 1-2% of New Zealand’s EEZ is fished by trawl. In total, less than 10% has ever been contacted by trawls and some of this area is now within BPAs. On this basis, more than 90% of the seafloor has never been affected by trawls with the BPAs setting aside a large portion of this.

DWG recognises that the development of MPAs in New Zealand waters remains a ‘work in progress’ and that the existing MPAs will be reviewed once the Government completes its proposed MPA Policy.

What are DWG’s rationales for this?

1. Should there be a comprehensive network of MPAs in New Zealand waters?

Yes.  Alongside the Quota Management System, MPAs are one of a number of tools used in New Zealand waters to conserve marine biodiversity.

2. Are BPAs considered MPAs?

Yes.  New Zealand’s BPAs are recognised for their significant global contribution to marine biodiversity by the New Zealand Government, by the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority, and internationally by scientists, academics and NGOs.

These BPAs have been designed to set aside at least 10% of each oceanic Marine Environment Classification within New Zealand’s EEZ.

They are large and cover 30% of New Zealand’s EEZ, the fifth largest EEZ in the world.  This equates to an area 14 times the size of New Zealand’s protected land area, 4 times the size of New Zealand’s land area overall, and is larger than the entire UK EEZ.

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by New Zealand in 1993, recognises that MPAs can take many forms, including those that allow for sustainable uses that do not undermine their conservation objectives.  The New Zealand Government’s proposed MPA Policy also acknowledges this and proposes four types of MPAs including ‘Seabed Reserves’, a form of BPA that protects ecosystems and biodiversity on the seafloor (i.e. benthic biodiversity).

3. What selection criteria was used to establish BPAs?

The best available science in 2007 informed their selection against the following criteria:

a) Unmodified – most of the sea floor within the BPAs is pristine and untouched by humans

b) Large – as individual areas and in total

c) Simple boundaries – to aid ease of interpretation and compliance

d) Delivered Government policy – to protect not less than 10% of New Zealand’s marine environment in some form

e) Representative of -

  • The Marine Environment Classifications – BPAs close at least 10% of each oceanic category within New Zealand’s EEZ
  • Geographic regions – BPAs encompass the full range of oceanographic conditions, extending from sub-tropical waters in the north to sub-Antarctic waters in the south
  • Geological regions – BPAs cover the geological range of habitat types across both tectonic plates, to the east and to the west of New Zealand
  • Depth ranges – BPAs were selected to encompass the full depth range from 0 m to >1,500 m
  • Underwater Topographical Features – BPAs were selected to encompass seamounts (>1,000 m elevation), knolls (500-1,000 m elevation) and hills (<500 m elevation), as well as hydrothermal vents.

f) Transects – as little is known of the exact spatial extent and locations of various marine benthic habitats, several BPAs cover transects from 12-200 nm offshore, contiguous with MPAs inside of the 12 nm Territorial Sea. These BPAs are: Fiordland Transect, Antipodes Transect, and Kermadec

g) Alignment with the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ) – in order to leverage off existing MPAs within the AFZ, the Sub Antarctic Deep BPA is contiguous with the Macquarie Island Marine Park in the south and the Norfolk Deep BPA aligns with the NZ EEZ:AFZ boundary in the north.

For a summary of the science and policy developments underpinning BPAs, see Helson et al (2010) available here.

4. Are BPAs a fisheries management tool?

No.  The purpose of BPAs is to set aside a representative range of benthic biodiversity within New Zealand’s EEZ.  BPAs are not a tool for managing fish stocks. New Zealand’s fisheries are sustainably managed under the Quota Management System and the provisions of the Fisheries Act 1996.

5. Why were BPAs implemented under the Fisheries Act?

There is, as yet, no specific MPA statute to allow them to be implemented within New Zealand’s EEZ.

As fishing was the only significant human activity in the EEZ at the time, and the Fisheries Act provides for conservation measures within the EEZ, BPAs were established under this statute in 2007.

6. Is New Zealand better with or without BPAs?

The wide range of benthic biodiversity in New Zealand waters is better protected with BPAs than without.

There has been one application for a mining permit in a BPA.  The Environmental Protection Authority declined this application noting, amongst the reasons for their decision, that this would likely have significant adverse effects on the benthic habitat and that this would undermine the conservation value of the BPA.

No bottom trawling or dredging is permissible within a BPA. Mid-water trawl fishing is allowed but only under strict conditions – the vessel must have at least two government observers onboard and have electronic net monitoring systems to ensure that the gear is always more than 100 m above the seabed.  Trawling within 50 m of the seabed carries a fine of up to $100,000 and seizure of the vessel upon conviction.

7. Where can I learn more about New Zealand’s protected areas?

The UNEP World Database of Protected Areas provides a useful, up-to-date, comprehensive database of international protected areas (land and marine).